It’s official: As we do not believe in climate change, because to do so would expose us to unacceptably harsh expectations, so we have ceased to believe in arithmetic, for the same reason. This mindset (can we call it that, since the “mind” part seems to be absent?), once the province of right wingnuts, has been adopted by the government of the United States so that, unfettered by the iron logic of numbers and their former, simplistic relationships (you know, addition, subtraction, that sort of thing), the government can proclaim its own brand of creationism — job creation, wealth creation, money creation and above all creation of the myth of the robust and immortal recovery.
Consumer spending is up. Everything else in the American economy depends on consumption, because we don’t do anything else anymore, and consumer spending has happily been on the increase through the last quarter of 2014 and into the new year, according to closely watched government reports. Which means, of course, that America’s Back! Except that, in the same period of time, retail sales are sharply down. According to closely watched government reports. Through the legendary Christmas shopping season and into the new year. So, people are buying more, and stores are selling less. Mathematically, those two things cannot coexist. Consumers can’t consume without involving retailers. The only solution: screw mathematics.
Job creation is triumphant. In March alone we added 126,000 jobs to the robustly recovering economy. Okay, that was weak, everybody was expecting twice that many, but hey, it’s going in the right direction. Unless you note that in the same month 277,000 adult Americans, um, left the labor force. Our happy, happy unemployment rate of 5.5% counts people who are in the labor force who do not have jobs. The 93 million people who are in this jobs purgatory would completely gum up the mathematics of recovery, so they have become officially invisible, along with mathematics itself. Screw mathematics.
Lower gas prices will be a great boon to the economy, the cheerleaders of recovery have been chanting. According to the New Math, when the price drops for one of the things consumers buy, they will buy more of everything, and the whole economy will benefit. (Can’t make that work on paper? Screw mathematics.) Inconvenient fact: gasoline consumption in the U.S., as measured by the Energy Information Agency, has been declining since the oil-price freefall began in the fall of 2014. Apparently we have also suspended the law of supply and demand. The price of a commodity that everybody uses has dropped dramatically, and everybody is buying much less of it. Go figure. Go figure again.
Bad loans are a good investment. How does this relate to mathematics? The notion that adding things give you not just a sum, but a change in nature. Take a loan that can never be repaid, add it to a loan that far exceeds the value of its security, throw in a few more and presto! a security (collateralized debt obligation) that is rated aaa, offers a high return, and is eagerly snapped up by equity managers everywhere. Ask, “How does adding bad things together give you a good thing?” and someone will be heard to mutter, “Screw mathematics.”
But, dear consumer, in this world where jobs are created but not available to us, where gas is cheaper but we still can’t afford to go anywhere, where it is our patriotic duty to spend what we do not have; it is not mathematics that is getting screwed.